Making alternative plans

When you are training an animal, you are working with another living creature. What happens during training is an interaction between this particular animal and your training plan.

In some cases, the animal does something that you didn’t anticipate. 

I’ve been thinking this week about what happens when things don’t go as planned.

What happens when things don’t go as planned?

Trainers with less experience often get left behind. The trainer scrambles to figure out what to do and inadvertently reinforces unwanted behaviors. 

Experienced trainers, on the other hand, are often able to recover quickly when things don’t go as planned. What are these trainers doing differently?

Tip 1: Think about the alternatives before you start training

You can improve your training by thinking through some of the possible “What if….?” scenarios before you start and deciding what you would do in each case.

These possible what-ifs may include the animal offering behaviors other than the one you are trying to work on or changes in the environment, such as a new distraction. 

Trainers often have poor timing when the animal offers a behavior that is slightly different from what the trainer anticipated. As a result, the trainer tries to decide in the moment if she should reinforce the behavior or not. 

If you’ve planned for different alternatives, you will be less likely to get caught off guard. 

Tip 2: Plan to take breaks

As Bob Bailey advises, “Think. Plan. Do”. That is, you shouldn’t be revising your plan while you are actually training. 

So, when something unexpected occurs, the best solution is often to stop and take a break. Breaks are also just good in general, as they give you a chance to review your progress. 

But, if you haven’t planned how to take a break, your animal may be surprised or unhappy by the interruption. 

ginger sleeping on the rug

So, before you start training, think through how you will take a break. Where will the animal go? What will the animal do? (See this blog post for a lot more about taking breaks.)

Planning for breaks will help you transition smoothly between training sessions and breaks. 

In conclusion 

Remember this: you can improve your training by having a plan for what to do when things don’t go as planned. 

P.S. I’ve added a list of my 2020 workshops and conferences to this page of my site. Please check it out. I’d love to get to meet you in person at one of these events in 2020!

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